Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is a play about gender relations and the oscillations of gender-based power through an account of one man’s taming of a ‘shrew’ within a patriarchal society. The play has experienced a very controversial reception throughout its recent performance history and appears to be a problematic play wherever and whenever it is staged throughout the world. When The Taming of the Shrew poses such a cultural challenge through its modern performances, it may seem less likely to capture a modern audience’s attention, or, as Barbara Hodgdon feared, “…Shrew’s obsessive attempt to circumscribe woman’s “place” has especially fatal attractions for late-twentieth-century feminist readers and spectators.”
Nevertheless, this was not the case in 1990s Taiwan, when Liang Chi-min [梁志民] produced two successive adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew, beginning with The New Taming of the Shrew (March, 1994), then Kiss Me Nana (1997, with later revivals in 1998 and 1999). Both of these productions toured several major Taiwanese cities, testament to the play’s ongoing popularity even in contemporary Taiwan. Being the theatre company’s most frequently revived production, the success of Liang’s second adaptation, Kiss Me Nana, and especially its following revivals in 1998 and 1999 attracted more young audiences to the theatre than ever before. What could account for the success of this intercultural, Mandarin Chinese-language adaptation of a sixteenth-century play, which, as Diana E. Henderson argues, is “premised on the sale of women?”
Part of the answer is that this play corresponds to concurrent concerns in Taiwan, at a time when the women’s rights movement had begun to see progress. Soon after the 2000 presidential election, Taiwan saw its first ever female vice president, the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Annette Lu, who championed the passage of such landmark legislation as the 2001 Gender Equality in Employment Act. Hence, the dynamics of women’s struggle against a patriarchal society in The Taming of the Shrew, in many ways, appears familiar and relevant to the modern Taiwanese audience. As Chen Yueh-ying noted:
Though patriarchal struggles in sixteenth-century London/England indeed might appear extremely parallel to those in today’s Taipei/Taiwan, nevertheless, these characters, and the subjects raised, are outstandingly those familiar to citizens of Taipei/Taiwan.
Taiwanese audiences felt a connection and resonated with the play, but such familiarity could also partially result from Liang Chi-min’s Taiwanese interpretation of the play, tailor-made to capture their imaginations. As Nanette Jaynes remarked: “…the shrewishness of his Kate, known as Hao Lina (Nana) [郝麗娜], is uniquely Taiwanese…so tough and individualistic in other words, so unlike the conventional stereotype of the traditional, subservient young Taiwanese woman.”
With Liang’s choices and methods of interpretation, which “humorously satirise social assumptions and stereotypes common in contemporary Taiwan” , his adaptation at the same time made Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew more accessible to the Taiwanese, especially to the younger generation, by adopting Western elements and cultural influences in the production. At the same time, Kiss Me Nana bears the imprint of contemporary Taiwanese society, incorporating Taiwanese concepts of love, marriage and family.
After all, as Werner points out: “Ultimately, the more carefully one works through a critical reading of performed Shakespeare, the less likely it is that the performance will appear to assert the Bard’s universality”. Each production of the performed Shakespeare acts individually, within its specific cultural context, so for this reason the context of Taiwan will be the primary focus of this research. Further, the character of Nana (Katherina) is central to this chapter, which will examine how the Taiwanese Nana is distinctly different from Shakespeare’s Katherina, how gender relations in Chinese patriarchal society differ from Shakespeare’s British patriarchy, and how in the 1990s the status of Taiwanese women in particular had changed since Shakespeare’s time.
The final focus of this chapter will be on the cultural negotiation by both main characters with regard to their exercise of power. After all, The Taming of the Shrew is not merely a play about gender relations; it is above all about the operation of power, which reinforces the social hierarchy of its time. Liang Chi-min’s adaptation Kiss Me Nana, on the other hand, not only demonstrates gender hierarchy oscillating within these two different cultures, but also how values of the dominant culture are employed, negotiated and imagined/expected through the process of adaptation. It is this negotiation of power that has so fascinated spectators through the ages, and the adaptation of Kiss Me Nana provides the fusion of Western and Asian art forms and cultures, marked by a shared cultural hierarchy within this cultural negotiation.
As Werner notes, “for someone wishing to disrupt its patriarchal thrust, the structure of the play itself creates problems” , so that any interpretational choice made by the director, Liang, more or less poses a threat to subvert Shakespeare’s textual authority. In a way, the director has the power to make a series of choices to dominate the text in order to accommodate it within the local culture – choices of “restrict[ing] the range of options available to the actors…and cut[ting] off options for the audience…” On one hand, the alternation of original text makes the director subject to the author. On the other, wielding the power of predominating over actors and audience puts the director in the patriarchal position, so because this theatrical hierarchy the identity of the director becomes equivocal. As Ric Knowles states: “The role of the director has not tended to be gendered female to the same degree as that of the translator, partly, one suspects, because of the hierarchical nature of the theatrical workplace, in which the function of the director has always been in part managerial and patriarchal.” Further, the question remains whether the director Liang “tames” the text as Petruchio tames Katherina in it, or accurately interprets the same, climactic “act of surrender” as in Katherina’s submission speech.
Gender Politics in the Context of Taiwan
The Taming of the Shrew is a play about the operation of power in gender relations. First, it displays the power transaction between the classes, as demonstrated in the Induction where Christopher Sly, a tinker, is convincingly disguised as a noble lord. This exchange of identity represents the oscillation of class order. Second, the cross-dressed boy who plays Christopher Sly’s submissive wife and delivers the final speech represents male controlling power, and shows the kind of behaviour men expect of the ideal woman.
In recent years, there has been a lot of critical attention on Katherina’s final submission speech. However, whether Petruchio has tamed the shrewish Katherina or Katherina has cunningly tamed Petruchio’s ‘macho’ power is not the point: the real struggle in the play is between male dominance and female challenge. What is reflected in Liang’s adaptation, Kiss Me Nana, is the restoration of order within the traditional hierarchy in Taiwan – culturally, traditionally, sexually and politically. In making parallels between power relations between two different cultures, as demonstrated in Liang’s adaptation: Western culture is seen as a hegemonic authority compared to traditional Taiwanese culture, with the adaptation of the original text posing a threatening challenge to this cultural hierarchy. In addition, the negotiation of gender relations has been re-opened for exploration in the production, as it seems to have progressed over the decades in contemporary Taiwan.
As Penny Gay has indicated: “In the four hundred years since Shakespeare wrote the play the patriarchal system has remained entrenched in our society, changing a little superficially, but in no way relinquishing its power.” Although Gay refers to British society, the power of the patriarchal system still dominates in most cultures in the modern age, including Chinese patriarchy. In Taiwan, the rule of Chinese patriarchy plays a very important role, signified by the values embodied in regulations under the Kuomintang government’s (KMT) martial law, which was only lifted in 1987. However, little by little, the values from the martial law period have been replaced by those of a new democratic age. It is exactly this age, illustrating the transition and history of the struggles of its women’s movement, which sets the scene in Liang’s two adaptations in 1990s Taiwan, The New Taming of the Shrew and Kiss Me Nana.
In Taiwan, the women’s movement did not start until the 1970s. It was the first time the traditional belief under Chinese patriarchal society that “men are superior to women” was openly challenged and questioned. Former Taiwan Vice President Annette Lu (2000-2008, Lu Hsiu-lien, [呂秀蓮], who published a landmark article, “A Review of Traditional Gender Relations” (1971) and a book, “The New Feminism” (1974), was the pioneer of Taiwan’s first wave of the women’s movement and the first to propagate feminism during the KMT’s martial law. Lu’s active participation in the women’s movement began to attract intense KMT scrutiny and in 1976 Lu was forced to flee to America for two years. Hence, the second wave of Taiwan’s women’s movement had to wait until 1982, when Li Yuanzhen [李元貞] founded “Awakening Magazine” to promote women’s rights and bring gender issues to the attention of the Taiwan public. Awakening’s launch was momentous, as it was the first feminist magazine (apart from Lu Hisu-lien’s article and book) to be published under martial law’s oppressive conditions, signalling the slackening of KMT authority and the beginning of a new democratic age. Even though women in Taiwan had voting rights before martial law was lifted in 1987, few women actually participated in politics due to prevailing stereotypes, such as the view that ‘women look after the house while men go to work.’
Even today, most female governmental officials in Taiwan are either single or divorced, illustrating how difficult and frustrating it still can be for politically active women to command full respect and support within a patriarchal society. Evidence of this imbalance in women’s participation in politics was still seen in statistics of those elected in Taiwan’s elections between 2001 and 2002: female members (20%) of legislator and councillor in Taiwan numbered far less than the male members (80%).
Likewise, 400 years after Shakespeare wrote Taming of the Shrew, gender inequality in Britain remains an issue. Even though the number of women in the Cabinet has increased, the low proportion of female members of Parliament still reflects male dominance in this modern society, mirroring the modern concern for this phenomenon of unequal gender relations.
Despite the under-representation of Taiwanese women in politics, over the last decade women’s roles within Chinese patriarchy have been redefined, as more and more Taiwanese women receive higher education, become independent and self-sufficient, work more part-time or full-time outside of the home, and cultivate careers. Especially after the lifting of martial law, gender relations in Taiwan have seen some improvement as a result of this growth in Taiwanese women’s financial independence; women’s participation in the labour force continued to rise steadily in Taiwan between 1978 and 2001. Women were for a long time limited by family bonds, and commitments, and constrained by Chinese patriarchy’s gender stereotypes.
Hence, when in the 1980s women began to have the choice of working outside of the home, the consequent transformation of the family structure considerably altered the nature of gender relations. One of the many reasons women left their households to join the workforce was that during the 1970s and 1980s, Taiwan was in the process of transforming from agricultural to an industrial society, and the labour shortage created many career opportunities and life choices for women. After the1990s, the fast-growing service sector attracted more people, especially women, into the labour market. The 1987 abolition of martial law as well as these successive developments certainly were key factors in enabling women to pursue their new-found rights, accompanied by the gradual opening of the political and social environment, allowing discussion and debate of feminist issues to take place like never before.
As a consequence of the 1986-7 end of newspaper censorship, feminist literature began to appear in all kinds of newspapers and journals, with a new generation of women writers depicting the hardship of female protagonists within the contexts of marriage, the family and traditional society. The public stereotype of gender relations did improve over those years, but the issue of gender equality itself was hardly seriously considered until the late 1990s. It was then that the Taiwanese Feminist Scholars Association was first established, and education in gender equality was actively promoted through relevant research and educational courses for the public. In the last 20 years, many women’s organisations have been established to protect women’s rights against domestic violence for instance and within the wider society, namely The Women’s Rights Promotion Committee of Taipei under the Executive Yuan in 1996, and The Gender Equality Education Committee in 1997. These were followed by key new legislation: the Gender Equality in Employment Act in 2002, and the Gender Equality Education Act, 2004. However, this progress came with great tumult during the 1990s – notably a public demonstration against sexual harassment in 1994, the murder of Peng Wanru in 1996 and Bai Xiaoyan in 1997 – described as an “ultimate sacrifice that has become the foundation of women’s rights in Taiwan.”
It is worth taking into account details of the two murders of Peng Wanru and Bai Xiaoyan in Taiwan, as these incidents illustrate the public’s changing view of successful women. The highly publicised acts of violence against women were attributed to men’s anger towards, and their desire to punish a living ‘shrew’, according to the values of traditional Taiwanese patriarchal society. Men in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew regard Katherina in a disdainful way and are eager to get rid of such a dangerous person, with Paola Dionisotti, an actress, for example expressing her feelings about playing Katherina: Katherina is seen as an embarrassment to her father and also by the public because she is a woman who is seen as a challenge to the patriarchal society. A similar attitude could be applied to women who appear to be successful and shrewd in contemporary Taiwan, as these women can be viewed as a threat to male dominance. Peng Wanru was a living example; a leading feminist activist for women’s rights in Taiwan, she died as a victim of rape, the most extreme form of male crime against women. Peng Wanru was a successful woman in both society and politics, not only a prominent leader in Taiwan’s feminist movement but also director of the DPP’s Women’s Affairs Department. On the night of November 30, 1996, she disappeared after taking a taxi home alone and was found raped and dead three days later. The news of her unsolved murder was shocking to the Taiwan public due to her reputation as a feminist leader and women’s advocate. Had she not been the director of the DPP’s Women’s Affairs Department, her death likely would not have received such publicity. In any case, Taiwanese women soon vociferously demanded greater personal security and action. In memory of Peng and her contribution to women’s rights and gender equality, a proposal was made by the organisation of Taiwan Women Camp Committee to establish Women’s Rights Day (also called Wanru Memorial Day) on the last Sunday of every November. One month after her death, the “Sexual Assaults Prevention Law” was passed in the Legislative Yuan (Legislature) in the capital Taipei, and the “Gender Equality Education Committee” was established under the Education Ministry in order to implement education for gender equality. However, also in 1997, the brutal murder of another well-known feminist’s daughter, Bai Xiaoyan [白曉燕], again forced the public to take the issue of women’s security more to task, as this murder was marked as one of the biggest criminal cases in Taiwan’s history, and became the biggest security concern since KMT came to rule Taiwan in 1949. Bai Xiaoyan, only 17 years old, was kidnapped on her way to school, raped, tortured to death and her body was found dumped in the gutter.
Bai Xiaoyan’s mother, Bai Bingbing [白冰冰] also was successful and independent; she was a single mother, and a well-known singer, actress, and influential TV presenter in Taiwan. Bai Xiaoyan’s murder was suspected to be politically motivated because of her mother’s public and political commitments. Bai Bingbing was an active KMT supporter and two years before her daughter was murdered, she had endorsed Vincent Siew, Siew Wan-chang [蕭萬長], the KMT candidate for legislature, in Jiayi County [嘉義縣], even making campaign appearances for him. Because of her influential support, Siew Wan-chang defeated his opponent and successfully won the election. Thus this case was heavily politicised by the media, with the KMT ruling power questioned and challenged by the opposition DPP. As a result of this criminal case, Lee Teng-hui [李登輝], then KMT president, made a public apology on the government’s behalf, and reshuffled the Cabinet. This murder had a profound effect on both the government and public, which resulted in women’s security being taken much more seriously. On account of this, Peng Wanru’s and Bai Xiaoyan’s deaths also sent out a warning signal, in the form of a threat of male violence towards highly successful women.
It is not merely the issue of misogyny, but also that of domestic violence, that was reflected in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and was a serious concern in 1990s Taiwan society. One year after the 1998 launch of Kiss Me Nana was an important year for Taiwanese women, who finally gained legal protection from domestic violence, with the Domestic Violence Prevention Act. The same year saw the overturn of the Chinese patriarchal convention of married women necessarily taking their husband’s family name. These events marked a milestone in the history of Taiwan’s women’s movement, for the first time breaking with traditional concepts of “no legal intervention in the family”. This was momentous because the traditional Taiwanese family had always been regarded as a private sphere, protected from any state intrusion, a development in the history of the women’s movement which brought to the attention of all in Taiwan the issue of gender equality.
To summarize, a comparing gender relations in Elizabethan England and contemporary Taiwan, it seems very little has changed in the way women who dare to challenge male’s lead are punished with violence. For Peng Wanru and Bai Bingbing, they both represent a certain type of woman who are strong enough to be seen as a real threat to men’s patriarchal position, and both victims after having crossed the line drawn and defined by patriarchy about entering politics. Women’s demure obeisances are still demanded today, and overcoming their constant ‘silencing’ – the loss of their ‘voice’ and independence – remains an important issue. For millennia, Chinese literature may have propagated examples of women who donned men’s clothes and entered male domains of authority, but they were ultimately respectful of Confucian patriarchal social mores, such as filial piety, a point we will now turn to for examination.
Heroines in Chinese Literature
In Liang Chi-min’s Kiss Me Nana, Nana is such a uniquely Taiwanese Katherina – a combination of both rebellious shrew and obedient daughter, representing the Chinese Confucian influence on the women in Taiwan for the past 300 years. Women in society at that time were in no position to challenge or subvert the traditions or power of patriarchy. Even though a woman’s role has been redefined over the last decade, these centuries-old moral standards still deeply affect people’s behaviour in contemporary Taiwanese society.
Heroines in the history of Chinese literature, such as Mulan [花木蘭], Zhu Yingtai [祝英台], Mu Guiying [穆桂英], often represent the feminist spirit of standing up for themselves against the power of patriarchy. These heroines often entered masculine roles; Mulan disguised herself as a man to join the army, Mu Guiying acted as one to enter the battlefield, and Zhu Yingtai – who was like a Chinese version of Yentl – also disguised herself as a man in order to attend school. However, these characters were not, and not thought of, as “shrewish” as Shakespeare’s Katherina. Their stories were not taught to honour their strength or bravery in attempting to break the rules of Chinese patriarchy. Instead, their stories inculcated the Confucian values of loyalty and filial piety: Mulan joined the army in order to take her sick father’s place (filial piety), and Mu Guiying’s mother-in-law requested that she served in the army to show loyalty to her country. The only example of a female character truly confronting patriarchal society was Zhu Yingtai, who refused to obey her parents’ choice of an arranged marriage and instead disguised herself as a man to enter a school and receive an education (not until the late 19th century was women’s education considered important, with the first Women’s School built in Shanghai in 1897 by Jing Yuanshan [經元善]). Zhu Yingtai, who brought shame to her own family, was a lesson against any woman ‘defiling tradition’ by disobeying her parents or refusing an arranged marriage, as her story ended in both her and her lover’s tragic death. The story meant to reinforce Confucian values of Zhong [忠] (loyalty), Xiao [孝] (filial piety), Ren [仁] (benevolence), Yi [義] (justice), Li [禮] (courtesy), Zhi [智] (wisdom), and Xin [信] (faith), all fundamental bastions of Chinese patriarchal society.
Comparing ‘The New Taming of the Shrew’ and ‘Kiss Me Nana’
In many respects, Kiss Me Nana owes its success to the fusion of Western and Asian elements that debuted at that specific period of time in Taiwan; Penny Gay questions whether “The Taming of the Shrew would still be in the dramatic repertoire if it did not have the magic name ‘Shakespeare’ attached to it” . Part of Kiss Me Nana’s appeal may well be attributed to the name of Shakespeare, as it was advertised as an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
In truth, Kiss Me Nana was an adaptation of Liang Chi-min’s first adaptation, The New Taming of the Shrew, and not a direct adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. Chen Qi [陳琪], producer of Kiss Me Nana, admitted in a review that the production of Kiss Me Nana was re-adapted from the structure of The New Taming of the Shrew. In total, Liang Chi-min has four productions of two adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew. The first adaptation, The New Taming of the Shrew, was staged in 1994, and the second, Kiss Me Nana, was first staged in 1997 and revived twice (in 1998 and 1999), due to its increasing popularity. Even though the last two productions were just revivals of Kiss Me Nana, different actresses and costumes were chosen to enact different scenarios and embody different facets of Katherina. Owing to the lack of archive materials for the latter two, and the limits of this chapter, the first version of Kiss Me Nana, and the only version I saw, will be the main focus of this chapter. In sum, the first version (1997) reinforces the picture of a transformation in gender relations since the early 1990s, and at the same time provides the audience with more insight into an original and authentic Taiwanese Katherina.
The two adaptations were presented in two different theatrical forms – The New Taming of the Shrew was presented in the form of a play, but Kiss Me Nana was produced as a musical (indicating its Western influence of Kiss Me Kate). These two adaptations share a rather similar plot, but their Mandarin titles suggest somewhat different interpretations of Katherina’s character and the state of gender relations at that time. The Mandarin title of The New Taming of the Shrew is “Xin Xun (Xun?) Han (Han?) Ji (Ji?),” literally translated into English as “New Taming (Seeking?) Shrew (Man?) Notes (Strategy?).” For the Taiwanese audience, the title suggests an open-ended but ambivalent questioning of gender relations. The difference in Mandarin pronunciation of the words ‘tame’ and ‘seek,’ and ‘shrew’ and ‘man’ is rather small, the only difference being their Chinese character and tone (intonation). Taking advantage of these homonyms, Liang used the words to make a pun with the Mandarin title: “to tame the shrew or to tame the man” (is it the shrew who tames her husband or is it the husband who tames his shrewish wife?); as well as “to seek the shrew” (unlike Petruchio who comes to ‘wive it wealthily in Padua’ (1.2.69). Another meaning connotes Pan Dalong’s [潘大龍] intention to wive a shrew who can match his character; or “to seek the man” (does Nana pretend to be a shrew in order to seek a man who can match or understand her, or was her purpose to find any man who could take her away from patriarchal society?).
Kiss Me Nana’s Mandarin title, Wen Wo Ba Na Na [吻我吧娜娜], delivers a completely different message than The New Taming of the Shrew. The title of Wen Wo Ba Na Na can be interpreted with two different meanings in light of the various possible intonations because ba [吧] can be understood as either a demand or a question. Hence, the title of Kiss Me Nana can be pronounced as the imperative, “Kiss Me! Nana! (Nana, you have to kiss me)”, evoking men’s power of command over women; or uttered as the more interrogative, “Kiss Me? Nana?” (Would you please kiss me, Nana?), with the latter interpretation offer women the choice to decide whether to accept or to refuse a man’s request for a kiss. In Liang’s first version of Kiss Me Nana, Nana is able to make choices and enjoys a certain freedom of speech, unlike Shakespeare’s Katherina, who is forced to make compromises under patriarchal pressures.
According to Fu Yuhui, “Kiss Me Nana not only transcends time and space, inclining to ambiguity, but also takes a step further to examine the gender relations and exploiting authority – to see if there would still be a confrontation or a compromise” . After all, from the year of Liang’s first adaptation in 1994, until his second adaptation in 1997, the status of women’s rights and roles in Taiwanese society had changed greatly. As a result, the sense of gender equality is in many respects stronger and more convincing in the 1997 production of Kiss Me Nana than in The New Taming of the Shrew in 1994.
Western Influences in/on ‘Kiss Me Nana’
The Mandarin title of Kiss Me Nana not only gives a hint of how Taiwan gender relations have developed over the years, but also suggests the enhanced influence of Western cultures , as its title reminds the audience of another Western musical: Kiss Me Kate. Although Liang Chi-min’s production of Kiss Me Nana bears little resemblance to Kiss Me Kate, both are presented in the same form, as musicals. With his background as an American graduate, Liang Chi-min may have been particularly influenced by Cole Porter’s musical version of Kiss Me Kate, and Franco Zefferelli’s film adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew). Not only does the title suggest a strong nod to this particular Western musical, but elements of the whole production – including the costumes, settings, and music all reflect a strong sense of Western culture. The layout of the production and the actors’ dress do appear very exotic and foreign to the Asian audience – not at all Taiwanese. In addition to this, the production was set in two imaginary Western cities: Miro City (Nana’s city), and Dali (Pan Dalong’s home city), named after two modern painters, both prodigious in their own right. Miro was named after the Spanish painter Joan Miro – whose birthday centenary happened to be celebrated in New York the same year that Liang Chi-min studied there in 1993 – and on account of this, the lighting, set design, and costumes all reflect Miro’s influence. The other city, Dali, is named after surrealist painter Salvador Dali. The light projection of bright red lips onto the stage, symbolising Nana’s kiss, might well be an idea borrowed from Dali’s work, “Red Lip Sofa,” or even an allusion to the more contemporary Rolling Stones lip logo. The exotic setting is not only primarily of Western influence, but also reveals other functionalities. By setting the play in a surreal background, Liang succeeds in keeping the audience from falling into the trap of seeing the work through the lens of Taiwan’s ideology. After all, the potential risk of being too real, too close to the current space and time would contradict the original text’s ambiguous theme. For the same reason, to distance the audience from their familiar world, setting the play in two imaginary Western cities seems to work well as it helps avoid generating feelings of empathy toward this production. For example, although I found the issue of gender relations generally holds a strong resonance in contemporary Taiwan, since the setting is ostensibly in the “West”, I am turned into an outsider looking in, and therefore able to watch the production through independent eyes, without being subject to it.
The integration of Western and Asian elements has long been the Godot Theatre Company’s unique signature style. The Godot Theatre Company [果陀劇場] was founded by Liang Chi-min in 1988 after he graduated from the National Taiwan College of Arts. After witnessing traditional theatre’s decline, Liang’s wished to bring new blood into Taiwanese theatre and for that reason he decided to take the name “Godot”, from Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, as the name of his theatre company. It was only one year after martial law was abolished that the Godot Theatre was founded; the Taiwanese theatre was snow well on the path to regeneration, even looking forward to possibilities of expansion. Over the years, the Godot Theatre Company has particularly been known for adapting Western plays into musicals, such as Dong Wu Yuan Gu Shi [動物園故事] (based on Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story), Dan Shui Xiao Zhen [淡水小鎮] (Thornton Wilder’s Our Town), Kai Cuo Men Zhong Men [開錯門中門] (Alan Ayckbourn’s Communicating Doors), Da Bi Zi Qing Sheng [大鼻子西哈諾] (Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac) and Tian Shi Bu Ye Cheng [天使不夜城] (Federico Fellini’s film production of Night of Cabiria). The abovementioned choices of Western plays constituted a new field of the arts to the Taiwanese audience at that time.
Critics may fault with Liang Chi-min’s adaptations for a lack of originality, and point out that he does not strive to conceive an original play of his own. Either Liang is incapable of taking on the role of playwright, they argue, or he prefers to take advantage of other playwrights’ works. However, this criticism seems to be of little concern to Liang himself, as he stated in an interview that he did not believe there was any difference between an adaptation and an original text in terms of directing. His interest as a director is to figure out how to counter the original text, and how to rediscover the unexplored meaning of a text in terms of style, content, meaning or skill for a new interpretation to be found through the chosen method of adaptation. Through his own adaptation, Liang devotes himself to exploring every possible interpretation of the original text. For him, an adaptation is always an original work.
The Appropriation of Western Text
Rather than originality, Liang is more concerned with how to present the text to the Taiwanese audience, and how to accommodate the original text – to exclude or include it – within a Taiwanese cultural context. As most Taiwanese audiences are unfamiliar with Western texts, it has become extremely difficult for Liang to maintain a balance between the spirit of the Western text and Taiwan’s cultural context. However, in order to make the text more accessible to the audience and decrease cultural distance between Western text and Taiwanese audience, Liang adopts the strategy of replacing the entire setting of the original text within a historical or cultural background that the Taiwanese audience will find easier to appreciate. Liang’s method of adaptation is to: (1) adopt the original structure of the Western play script as the basis of his own adaptation; (2) delete any obscure or exotic dialogue with specific cultural references; and (3) rewrite the play with new dialogue that would resonate with the cultural experience of the Taiwanese audience. In The New Taming of the Shrew, Liang kept the original text’s basic structure, deleted any complicated speech or description (the Induction was cut; the character Gremio was removed), and simplified any incomprehensible allusions (Baptista’s money offer for Petruchio to marry Katherina) that might overly confuse the Taiwanese audience. However, Liang’s alteration of text triggered another issue. In his works, the loss of the original text’s spirit posed a serious problem, as the unique cultural background of the original text was sacrificed for the sake of delivering a local cultural context during the process of adaptation. In addition, Liang has been accused by theatre critic Catherine Diamond of eliminating anything controversial or anything that would complicate the play, in order to create a more pleasant and simpler story. In other words, the compromise of Liang’s so-called adaptation strategy was virtually all one-sided.
Nevertheless, negotiation between two cultures has always been unavoidable in the course of intercultural adaptation. Despite all these drawbacks, Liang still successfully plays an important role in bridging the gap between Taiwanese audiences and Western texts. As Jaynes remarked when she examined Liang’s adaptations: “The fascinating thing about the Godot Theatre’s adaptations is that they are not just Taiwanese ‘imitations’ of Western plays, but rather original works that fuse Western and Asian theatre together, encouraging a new way of thinking for the modern audience in Taiwan”. She further remarks:
The true beauty of the Godot Theatre’s four adaptations of The Taming of the Shrew certainly does not derive from the fact that they find their source in “Shakespeare” as an historical construct; rather, it is in the company’s use of a “Shakespearean” plot to create a new art – one that fuses the classical and the modern, and the East and the West, in ways that fascinate at the same time they entertain modern, young audiences in Taiwan.
In other words, Liang Chi-min’s works connect Taiwanese people to the Western world, and most importantly attracts more people, especially young people, to the Taiwanese theatre. Liang’s adaptations not only make otherwise obscure and impenetrable Shakespearean works more accessible to the Taiwanese audience, but connect Taiwanese society to the Western world. These contributions have brought about the success of Kiss Me Nana, and the production has become the Godot Theatre Company’s most frequently revived one. In 1997 it was awarded first place in the Taiwan Arts Awards – Performing Art Yearly Top 10 by the China Times, and was also recommended by All Music Magazine as the best musical in the last ten years in Taiwan. In other words, Kiss Me Nana’s success surpassed all previous Godot Theatre Company’s productions since the company was launched in 1988.
Kiss Me Nana’s success is firstly attributed to the treatment of gender relations in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew that aptly correspond to Taiwanese society in the 1990s, and secondly, to its fusion of Western and Asian elements that attracted a larger audience to the theatre. Third, it is important to note that Liang Chi-min knew his market very well; the target audience of the Godot Theatre Company for Kiss Me Nana averaged around 30 years old. As Jaynes observed:
All of Godot Theatre’s The Taming of the Shrew productions (the last three being titled Kiss Me Nana) are attempts to provoke the thinking, and to open a dialogue among young, educated audiences in Taiwan on the nature of male and female relationships, the influence of culture on those relationships, the role of marriage in the lives of individuals, and the degree of flexibility audience members have in constructing their own lives. Godot’s targeted audiences for these productions are those between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five, the ages in which Taiwanese young people are typically faced with the decision – if not the obligation – to marry.
Likewise, Chen makes the same comment on Godot Theatre Company’s target audience: “The target audience for Kiss Me Nana is under the age of thirty. Both visual and aural elements are aimed at young Taipeian tastes.” Liang Chi-min himself was around 32 years of age when he produced Kiss Me Nana in 1997. Those under 30 in 1997 in Taiwan were born in the dogmatic martial law era (1949-1987), but grew up in the more liberal 1980s (and were only 20 when martial law was abolished). In 2010, these people are now around 40 years old, with many either holding major positions in companies or participating in politics, at times leading Taiwan away from the restrained past into a more liberal and democratic age, perhaps partly explaining the DPP’s first presidential victory over the KMT in 2000. This age group was also the second generation of those following the KMT removal to Taiwan in 1949, or local Taiwanese who were suppressed under that KMT regime. Hence, Kiss Me Nana catered to and in many ways was a product of the generation gap between old and new values towards sexual morality and feminism. Liang knew very well what his audience really wanted at that time, especially those who were not being drawn to traditional theatres. As most Taiwanese teenagers have lost interest in traditional theatre, blending in Western elements helped increase young people’s engagement with this area of the arts. And, to help his audience to embrace the theatre, Liang employed many Western elements, both visually and aurally, to appeal to the audience’s appreciation of the hybrid of East and West in the production.
In order to attract more younger audiences to the theatre, Liang incorporated rock-and-roll music into the musical production Kiss Me Nana, the first Shakespearean musical adaptation in Taiwan to be infused with this form of Western music. This was part of an increasingly adopted strategy in Taiwanese theatre that has effectively helped bring it back to life, as Zhu Zhonekai [朱中愷] points out. Indeed, rock-and-roll is a perfect example illustrating how Taiwanese young people have been deeply influenced by Western cultures, especially American. Since the 1950s, Taiwan has received substantial military and economic aid from the United States. As a result, American culture was brought into Taiwan through different channels, such as magazines and radio, and deeply affected the way Taiwanese young people think and act. Rock-and-roll was one of several mass cultural phenomena to which Taiwanese youth were exposed, despite martial law, along with a certain extent of the counter-cultural movements of the Sixties. For most young people in Taiwan, rock music is associated with rebellion, revolution and anti-state control, and stands for the freedom to break the boundaries of constraint and resistance toward authority.
More recently, rock was even used by the opposition DPP in a Taiwan presidential election campaign in 1995 in order to attract more young voters to fight against the KMT’s one-party dictatorship, which had ruled Taiwan since 1945. Although the DPP lost the first democratic election, the combination of music and politics implied the Taiwanese people had learnt to speak for themselves and to fight for their freedom against a hierarchical authority. In 2000, after the DPP won the presidential election for the first time, the Kiss Me Nana production showed audiences Taiwanese society had transformed from its conservative post-martial law era and entered more liberal times. The use of rock music in the production of Kiss Me Nana was exactly the expression of that freedom, as Nana had long wanted to escape the constraints of a dominant patriarchy. The forward-looking spirit of this Taiwanese production was apparent from its curtain rising, as a rock version of Taiwan’s (Republic of China) national anthem played live to, and for, the audience.
I remember that feeling of astonishment when I heard this rock version of the national anthem played in the opening scene of Kiss Me Nana on the night of August 1, 1997. No doubt my surprise was shared with the rest of the audience, who did not seem to know the correct way to respond. Some members of the audience immediately stood up to show respect; it was instilled in them to do so. The remainder of the audience, including myself, were puzzled and did not know how to react, because this was such an unusual, unfamiliar version of the national anthem. The rock version of the national anthem also was reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix’s 1969 Woodstock version of the “Star Spangled Banner”, and the Sex Pistols’ punk rock anthem “God Save the Queen” in 1977. The Godot Theatre Company’s version of the national anthem , like these other controversial versions of anthems, not only established a connection with aspects of popular Western culture, but called out to the spirit of rebellion in the younger generation at that specific time.
In Kiss Me Nana, the use of rock music also speaks in the language of gender relations. On the one hand, rock appeals to women’s desire to revolt against suppression in a male-dominated society, while on the other the production’s heavy-metal style and trumpets also symbolised Pan Dalong’s dominant male role within that patriarchal society, emphasizing the male lead’s aggressive attitude. Although Kiss Me Nana included the theme from the film Mission Impossible to suggest that Dalong’s search for Nana’s kiss might end in failure, the other music in the production was instrumental in helping build tension in the hostility between the sexes.
Gender Politics in the Play
When Gale Edwards directed The Taming of the Shrew for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1995, Werner concluded from John Peter’s and Benedict Nightingale’s reviews that “the way to make sense of Shakespeare’s gender politics is to accommodate rather than challenge them.” Although their reviews criticise the female director, Werner seems to concur with their statement, suggesting that “for someone wishing to disrupt its patriarchal thrust, the structure of the play itself creates problems.” In other words, Shakespeare’s play had a misogynistic agenda and was not meant to be altered with the changing and liberalising times. However, when in 1994 Liang staged his first adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew in Taipei, his motive for approving Shakespeare’s male chauvinism by putting on this performance is debatable, although he did believe the play’s gender politics were already out-of-date. He defended himself by stating that his intention in adapting The Taming of the Shrew was neither to accommodate nor to challenge Shakespeare, but to examine the new gender relations of the contemporary age. Further, Liang’s two intercultural adaptations, The New Taming of the Shrew, and Kiss Me Nana, had already challenged Shakespeare’s universality with alterations and cuts in the text. As a director’s interpretation of Katherina’s final speech determines the tone of the play’s production, Liang’s altered submission speech (discussed below) for the Taiwanese Katherina in his two adaptations reveals some aspects of his attitude toward gender politics and represents the evolution of gender relations at that time in Taiwan.
In Liang’s first adaptation, The New Taming of the Shrew (1994), he altered Katherina’s final speech to be more open and encouraging, so that it might seem to be a warning for men:
They say we women are like water; but do not forget that the water that bears the boat is the same that swallows it up. The water cannot only be frozen, but also be boiled. We women can be like water, and filled every shape of container. When we change – please mind yourself – it can only be our appearance that has changed. And I hope that all the men here will keep that in mind.
Evidently, Liang was trying to convey to his audience that Shakespeare’s gender politics were out of date, because Taiwanese women were no longer so easily tamed. Women may be submissive, Nana says, but that may only be a mistaken judgment based on appearance. Later, in the second adaptation, Kiss Me Nana (1997), Liang makes an even clearer stand on gender politics, as he reshaped the characters’ personalities, expecting his adaptation could express the variety of contemporary gender relations. Hence Katherina’s submission speech is replaced with a chorus from Dalong and Lina:
Dalong: Now I guess it is time for Nana and me to teach these male and female chauvinists some good ways to get along between husband and wife.
Dalong and Lina: If you treat me well, then I will treat you better. If you try to argue with me, then I will just scream even louder.
Dalong: There are always ways of getting along with each other.
Dalong: You can still be you.
Lina: I can still be me.
Dalong and Lina: Two big trees do not have to restrict each other’s height.
Dalong: You can still understand me.
Lina: I can still understand you.
Dalong and Lina: The secret of negotiation is to keep it a secret.
It is not simply that the whole speech was cut and altered, but the play’s whole focus switched from Katherina’s monologue to Dalong and Lina speaking together. Shakespeare’s Katherina, in her long, final speech, makes the point that what men want women to do after being tamed is – to be silent. In Kiss Me Nana, however, Lina speaks as an equal to Dalong, even expressing how she feels and her refusal to be submissive just to please men, as – just before the curtain falls – Lina actually refuses Pan Dalong’s request for a kiss publicly, in front of everyone:
Pan Dalong: Kiss Me Nana! Kiss Me Nana!
Everyone: Kiss Me Nana! Kiss Me Nana!
Hao Lina: No!
Pan Dalong: What’s wrong? You don’t love me anymore? I thought we’d just
come to an agreement, haven’t we? Nana!
Lina: Dalong, I love you or I could love you. But it is never gonna be a love of ‘I will do everything you ask me to do’. So if you wish to earn my truest kiss, I am sorry, you’ll have to work a bit harder!
Dalong: Wow! Nana!
Tang Yuan: Well, it seems that the show is not over yet.
Lina has shown the audience her genuine affection, rather than just an ostensible, show of submission, in front of other men. Even if Lina shows no sign of being tamed into a silent and obedient woman, that capability of mutual communication makes her a very different shrew from Shakespeare’s Katherina. As Jaynes remarks: “The shrewishness of his Kate, known as Hao Lina, is uniquely Taiwanese. The Godot production examines the question of why Kate is so tough and individualistic; in other words, so unlike the conventional stereotype of the traditional, subservient young Taiwanese woman”. We now turn to the many ways Hao Lina represents a different shrew, and identity from Katherina as woman, daughter and wife.
A shrew is a small rodent; by comparing a woman to a shrew, the word is also used to debase one who is seen to be ill-tempered and scolds others. However, the words used to describe unruly women vary from Shakespeare’s time to today and from culture to culture. But in contemporary Taiwan, do we have the same standard of shrewishness as in Shakespeare’s time? In The Taming of the Shrew, many terms such as ‘devilish,’ ‘shrewd,’ ‘froward,’ ‘scolding,’ ‘wild-cat,’ and ‘rascal,’ are used to describe Katherina’s personality. A ‘shrew’ in Shakespeare’s time denoted a woman with a bad temper, scolding language and mischievous behaviour – in other words, Katherina’s “shrewishness” is defined by her temper, language, and behaviour. But in Liang’s Kiss Me Nana, the definition seems to go even further, to take in several aspects such as Lina’s appearance:
There is a gal called Hao Lina. Everyone is afraid of her, due to her aggressive nature. She is over thirty, but not yet married. All day long, she just looks for someone to fight. She’s got thick eyebrows and big eyes and she speaks as rapidly as a machine gun. (No need to maintain [a machine gun] because it won’t break down.) She does not care about being beautiful. She is not tame. She knows nothing about Chinese virtues (San Cong Si De). (She doesn’t even care about gossip) … She has never been in love. She does not put on make-up, either. Her father is completely helpless… She is surly and bad-tempered. She has a high standard for the man she wants. She is very good at criticizing men. (It is never easy to trick her into having sex) She is thick-skinned (shameless) and audacious. She does not worry about being alone all her life…
The word for ‘gal’ is used in Mandarin, ‘La Mei’ (literally ‘spicy beauty’ or something like ‘hottie’). The word ‘La Mei’ (spicy girl) was a term originating in Japan and later commonly used in Taiwan to describe young girls in miniskirts, and the term ‘La Mei’ had nothing to do with temper or speech, only with appearance. Nevertheless, throughout the whole production of Kiss Me Nana, there is not a single mention of the actual Chinese word for ‘shrew’ used to describe Hao Lina, only the term similar to ‘gal’. Moreover, the title does not suggest that other people are calling Hao Lina a shrew. In Mandarin, the equivalent of the English word ‘shrew’ is ‘hanfu’, [悍婦] a phrase composed of two characters. The closest literal meaning of ‘han’ is fierce, while ‘fu’ generally refers to women who are either married or old. In Kiss Me Nana, Hao Lina is not a shrew, a ‘hanfu,’ but simply called a ‘gal.’ There is no judgment inherent in this translation other than Hao Lina could be just about any ‘gal’ in Taiwanese society. Moreover, the description of Nana’s age and marital status fits exactly with that of the Godot Theatre Company’s target audience (around 30), as if projecting gender relationships similarly experienced by the audience was a conscious decision by Kiss Me Nana’s director.
Nevertheless, Hao Lina has every “shrewish” feature of Shakespeare’s Katherina: irascible (bad-tempered), noisy (‘speaking like a machine gun’), and aggressive (always looking for someone to fight). Furthermore, Hao Lina’s appearance is made shrewish to the ethnic Chinese perspective: thick eyebrows, big eyes, and no make-up. In Taiwan, thick eyebrows and big eyes are normally considered to be masculine characteristics, while women with no make-up or who do not ‘dress up’ are seen as unfeminine. Basically, this is still what Taiwanese men think of as a shrewish ‘gal’.
Overall, both Katherina and Hao Lina contradict social expectations of the ideal woman and violate the social norms and patriarchal values of their time. So what is the standard of an ideal woman, from the male point of view in both cultures? In the Induction of The Taming of the Shrew, the lord gives instructions to his servants on how to act like a real woman:
With soft low tongue and lowly courtsy,
And say, ‘What is’t your honour will command
Wherein your lady and your humble wife
May show her duty and make known her love?’
And then with kind embracements, tempting kisses,
And with declining head into his bosom (Induction, 110-115)
This describes the lord’s perspective of how a woman should behave in the presence of a man: quietly, courteously, humbly, loyally and always submissively, which reflect exactly, as Maureen Quilligan notes, gender relations in Early Modern Europe:
The triple injunction to be ‘Chaste, Silent, and Obedient’ is the fundamental tenet for the social control of the female; sexual order is ensured by policing language. It would seem that a female body must be silent in order to be chaste.
Later in the play, both Hortensio and Lucentio desire an ideal woman such as Bianca for her “gentler,” “milder” (1.1.60) manner, and her “silence” and “sobriety” (1.1.70-1). Nonetheless, when the standard is shifted to contemporary Taiwan, an ideal woman is expected not only to be inward (in temperament), but also outward (in appearance). In Kiss Me Nana, Hao Lisi [郝麗絲], who is Hao Lina’s sister, fulfils the demands of that expectation: she is young (under 30), more feminine (tender and obedient), physically attractive (beautiful), and silent (soft-spoken). Although the standard for beauty may vary from time to time and from culture to culture, it appears that silence is a common trait that men seek in an ideal woman, e.g. Lucentio admires Bianca’s silence: “But in the other’s silence do I see / Maid’s mild behaviour and sobriety” (1.1.70-1). On the other hand, loudness is one characteristic that defines a ‘shrew’ – Katherina’s language and speech that mark her as one. For instance, Hortensio mocks Katherina for being “renowned in Padua for her scolding tongue” (1.2.96). Karen Newman describes a shrew as a woman who uses language skilfully to fulfil her argument: “Her [Katherina’s] shrewishness, always associated with women’s revolt in words, testifies to her exclusion from social and political power. Bianca, by contrast, is throughout the play associated with silence.”
Indeed, in both Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and Liang’s Kiss Me Nana, the attempt to turn a shrew into a silent, ideal woman tells more about how men execute their own power through a war of words to conquer women, and this control over women’s language becomes a key weapon for males to establish and maintain their own power and identity.
In both Western and Asian cultures, there is a saying that “Silence is golden, and speech is silver”. This proverb is especially adhered to within Chinese patriarchal society , in which women should be seen and not heard, like children. Likewise, the whole process Katherina’s taming in Shakespeare’s Shrew aims to mute her voice, and silence her “scolding tongue.” She struggles mightily to retain that voice:
Why, sir, I trust I may have leave to speak;
And speak I will; I am no child, no babe:
Your betters have endured me say my mind,
And if you cannot, best you stop your ears.
My tongue will tell the anger of my heart,
Or else my heart concealing it will break,
And rather than it shall, I will be free
Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words. (4.3.73-80)
This is the moment when Katherina reacts to Petruchio’s taming “lesson” after their marriage and declares her right to speak, though her efforts are in vain. Katherina’s power of “linguistic wilfulness” is indeed diminished little by little by Petruchio, throughout the play, until her final speech. In Shakespeare’s play, the person who manages to speak holds the dominant power in the relationship. The distribution of power in the play is also reflected in the quantity of speech attributed to each character. Although Shakespeare’s play is about taming a “shrew”, actually it is less about taming her, and more about the tamer, Petruchio. Katherina “gets fewer lines than him, no soliloquies, few asides and little or no chance to explain her apparent change in temperament” . Paola Dionisotti also detected the dilemma when she played Katherina in Michael Bogdanov’s RSC production in 1978:
I wanted the play to be about Kate and about a woman instinctively fighting sexism. But I don’t really think that’s what the play is about. It’s not the story of Kate: it’s the story of Petruchio. He gets the soliloquies, he gets the moments of change. All the crucial moments of the story for Kate, she’s off stage.
Katherina’s silence is her tacit surrender to authority, and Petruchio is the one who dominates Katherina’s world in the play. Even Tranio delivers more lines than Katherina, who has fewer than half of Petruchio’s. Evidently, Katherina loses her right to bawdy speech, or speaking out at all, as well as her unruly power.
In Kiss Me Nana, Hao Lina’s “noise” (speaking like a machine gun) is an issue that irritates the dominant male suitors. But unlike Katharina, Hao Lina never submits to becoming silent. In The Taming of the Shrew, Katherina delivers fewer and fewer lines, and after her long submission speech (5.2.148-191), she never speaks again. However, throughout the Kiss Me Nana production, Lina speaks and sings almost as much as Dalong. In fact, Hao Lina has her soliloquies and speaks whenever she chooses.
Language and control over it is an important instrument in gender politics. In The Taming of the Shrew, Katherina’s sharp tongue and harsh language are tamed and she is being taught to be mute in order to fulfil men’s expectations. Petruchio surmises the best way to tame Katherina’s shrewish nature is first to tame her language. In order to undermine Katherina’s unbridled and outspoken nature, his plan is to confuse her language by either deliberately misinterpreting her words or by disrupting her speech:
Petruchio: Say that she rail, why then I’ll tell her plain
She sings as sweetly as a nightingale.
Say that she frown, I’ll say she looks as clear
As morning roses newly washed with dew.
Say she be mute and will not speak a word,
Then I’ll commend her volubility
And say she uttereth piercing eloquence.
If she do bid me pack, I’ll give her thanks
As though she bid me stay by her a week.
If she deny to wed, I’ll crave the day
When I shall ask the banns, and when be married. (2.1.166-176)
Hence, in order to show Katherina his dominance and authority, it is Petruchio who takes the lead in speech, while taking away Katherina’s power to speak:
Petruchio: But here she comes, and now, Petruchio, speak.
Good morrow, Kate; for that’s your name, I hear.
Kate: Well have you heard, but something hard of hearing:
They call me Katherine that do talk of me. (2.1.177-180)
However, in Kiss Me Nana, Lina refuses to be cowed, subverting the submissive posture of Katharina’s entrance, and seizes the initiative to speak before Dalong:
Lina: I heard that there is a boring man wants to see me. Is that you?
Dalong: No, it is a smart man who admires you. Hello, Nana. I heard that is your nickname.
Lina: Humph! Nana? Stop talking nonsense. Isn’t it your grandma who is called Nana! My name is Hao Lina.
Dalong: No! Your name should be Nana, adorable and lovely Nana. In fact, every beautiful thing in this world should be called Nana. Oh! Nana. Ever since I heard this name, I’ve imagined how good and true you are. I heard everyone is saying that uncle Hao has a beautiful daughter with a strong character. Everybody is praising your beauty and virtue. Come, kiss me Nana!
In this conversation, Hao Lina refuses to be called/ named “Nana” by Pan Dalong, suggesting that she is not so easily tamed. Still, Pan Dalong persists, insisting on calling her “Nana”. In a further step, Pan Dalong even redefines the name “Nana,” suggesting that it means adorable, lovely and beautiful, indicating that Pan Dalong has the absolute power to call her anything he chooses and to turn her into the good-natured he wants her to be.
In terms of power, the names that Dalong and Lina call each other also reflect a negotiation of power, as with Petruchio and Katherina. As people refer to Katherina as a shrew to debase her, Petruchio calls Katherina ‘Kate’ (2.1.185-195), which also uses the pun of animal imagery to suggest that he will tame her from being a wild cat (Gremio calls her a wildcat in 1.2.189) to a mild cat. Katherina counters this move by using animal imagery to compare Petruchio to a turtle (2.2.204) and a crab (2.1.223). In Kiss Me Nana, Lina also uses animal imagery to insult Dalong, likening him to a donkey (too stubborn and needing to be tamed). Lina refers to Dalong as a donkey to imply that she can ride him (tame and control him). Just as Petruchio calls Katherina ‘Kate,’ Dalong also attempts to tame Lina, and to establish his authority over her by changing her name to ‘Nana.’ What both Petruchio and Dalong attempt to do is to diminish the woman’s power by giving them a new identity. As Tita French Baumlin argues, this “changes [Katherina’s] sense of self, creating for her a new, more functional persona” .
However, Katherina’s response to this is totally different from Lina’s. Katherina does defend her own name, assaying the name was given to her by other people. In other words, Katherina has already lost her self-identity, with the name of Katherine being the identity given to her by others, similar to the identity of a shrew, by which she is known by all. In contrast, Lina answers Dalong by asserting that her name is not ‘Nana,’ the nickname he has given her, but Hao Lina. She has her own sense of self-identity, along with the power of subjective authority in this gender struggle, perhaps best shown in the passage when she counters Pan Dalong:
Pan Dalong: I am the eagle, and you will turn into a little white dove.
Hao Lina: I am the eagle, not a little white dove.
However, both Katherina and Lina give up their objection after a while, accept the nicknames they are given and never mention their true names again throughout the play, effectively confirming that they have both agreed to be ‘transformed’ and given another identity. Thus, in a sense, they both agree to be tamed. This may perhaps explain why, later in the play, Petruchio calls Katherina his “falcon” (4.1.161) and his hawk/hound (5.2.72) in public, suggesting that Petruchio has successfully tamed Katherina through this naming process.
Both Petruchio and Dalong give their wife a new identity by changing their names, suggesting from that point on that she is their possession. After Petruchio marries Katherina, he immediately announces that “I will be master of what is mine own” (3.2.218), implying that Katherina is now his property: “She is my goods, my chattels; she is my house, / My household-stuff, my field, my barn, / My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything, / And here she stands. Touch her whoever dare” (3.2.219-222).
In the Taiwanese version, before Dalong leaves Lina to prepare for their wedding, he gives her a second identity by addressing her as the future ‘Mrs. Pan,’ directly demanding that she carries Dalong’s family name: “To be honest with you, no matter whether you consent or not, I must marry you and teach you how to be a good Mrs. Pan.” By calling Lina ‘Mrs. Pan’, Dalong has effectively announced that she is his property. Later, Dalong also suggests that as her master, she will always be obedient to him:
Dalong: I am your sun…I am your master, and you are my housekeeper. No more back-talk. Answer your call immediately… I am your master… Everybody recognises his or her own role… All right, let us cut the crap. You are my possession, my valuable deposit… I am your legal husband.
Explicitly, Dalong defines Lina’s subordinate relationship in the patriarchal hierarchy by referring to her as a subordinate, a member of his household staff. In fact, by agreeing to marry to him, she has also subconsciously approved of being a subject of Dalong, her husband, as ‘a good Mrs. Pan.’ By adopting Pan Dalong’s family name, Lina shows signs of a negotiated concession to be tamed. Taking away Lina’s identity literally means depriving her of power and denying her sense of self within society. Lina is no longer in a position to negotiate, as she has accepted the identity given her by Dalong. All her speeches in favour of freedom and free will suddenly seem a meaningless demonstration, a superficial protest against a patriarchal society.
Like the birdcage that hangs over the stage throughout the performance of Kiss Me Nana, Nana may speak as much as Dalong, and seem to be a free-willed, modern woman, but ultimately her behaviour is still constrained and she is shackled by a patriarchal society. As a woman living under patriarchal sovereignty, she is not entitled to have a sense of self-identity because women are only seen as the property of men (including her father). Obedience to male authority is women’s only way to survive in Chinese patriarchal society.
So far, it is clear that Hao Lina has struggled to negotiate her power share with Pan Dalong. However, as the game goes on, she shows she is not such a rebellious modern woman because she succumbs to marrying Dalong and takes his family name. Lina’s ‘feminist’ attempts to defy traditional values at the play’s beginning now appear rather superficial. As Jaynes notes, the character of Hao Lina has not actually accentuated the features of the modern-age woman, but instead Hao Lina’s behaviour has redefined women’s role within the Confucian patriarchal system. Indeed, Jaynes has overestimated Lina’s capacity to fight the patriarchal system on behalf of all Taiwanese women. Instead, Lina’s age reflects the average of most women in Taiwan (just over 30 years old ), showing the audience (of the same age) the dilemmas and struggles they face, caught between Eastern Confucian values and the Western image of gender equality. Importantly, the pressure of Chinese patriarchal constraints on Lina does not come from Dalong alone, but from her father, Uncle Hao (Baptista) [郝伯伯].
The birdcage in Kiss Me Nana is a constant visual reminder signifying the constant pressures and constraints of patriarchy on every woman in Asian society, embodied in the rebellious Lina. Women’s experience in contemporary Taiwan is by no means identical to that of women like Katherina during Shakespeare’s time. What distinguishes Lina from Katherina are the traditional Confucian virtues revered specifically in Chinese patriarchal society. The birdcage suggests that she is confined within the values of that patriarchy, and her reactions are circumscribed within these traditional conventions. Lina’s character parallels Katherina’s with respect to their “shrewish” natures, but Lina’s situation differs in that she experiences the moral restrictions placed on women over two millennia of Chinese patriarchal society – a dilemma that modern women face in contemporary Taiwan.
The way Hao Lina lives under the constraints of these distinctly Chinese social mores has made her a uniquely Taiwanese “shrew”, since she possesses filial piety. Evidence of this can be seen in Lina’s relationship with her sister, Hao Lisi. In The Taming of the Shrew, the reason Katherina ties Bianca’s hand is for Katherina’s own benefit. However, in Kiss Me Nana, Lina strikes Lisi for her ‘unsisterly’ behaviour:
Lisi: My good sister, you don’t look so happy, do you?
Lina: It’s because I can’t find a man who can truly appreciate my goodness. What about you? Are you happy?
Lisi: What is happiness? I don’t really know! No matter what, I will do whatever other people ask me to do. Perhaps in this way, I can save a lot of effort, and get what I want even sooner – by taking advantage of every old and young man in the world.
Lina: That doesn’t sound right coming from a person like you.
Lisi: Sister, are you really not going to marry? Bear in mind that our father will
not bestow his property on an unmarried daughter.
Lina: Look at you. I can’t even imagine how you dare to say that! And our father thought how filial you are. Now you say this to me. See if I dare to teach you a lesson. [follows Lisi and beats her].
Lina is angry at Lisi’s apparent lack of piety, but importantly, her beating is not seen as a violent act by the audience, but the expected response within that cultural context. Hao Lina’s anger is reasonable to a Taiwanese audience. Just as in The Taming of the Shrew, Katherina and Bianca do not have a mother. But, Lina is responsible for her sister Lisi’s behaviour, because according to Chinese social norms, in the absence of a mother the eldest sister must take over her role. This passage shows how the value of filial piety is a deeply rooted motivational factor behind Lina’s thoughts and behaviour. Even though Lina attempts to stand up against patriarchy, as a woman she still subconsciously fulfils her responsibilities as a daughter and elder sister.
The Taiwanese “shrew” not only fulfils her duty of filial piety, but proves her worth in her family as a wage-earner: she has a part-time job and a business of her own to relieve her father’s financial burden. Unlike Katherina, Lina is more capable of fitting into society and standing together with men as an equal, since she is an independent working woman. However, Lina is still the one whom her father is eager to marry off:
She is the treasure in your eyes, but I am your burden. Father, although I don’t work outside, I do have my own business. Why can’t I just live the rest of my life quietly? Why does a woman have to get married to prove her charm and her value?
Like Katherina, Lina, who crosses the boundary of male authority, is an outcast of whom patriarchal society is eager to rid itself. Dalong and Petruchio are also social outsiders; as Paola Dionisotti observes:
They were really quite glad to see the back of both of them… He’s an outsider. She’s an outsider. And she’s a problem. It’s an embarrassment for Baptista to have that kind of daughter, a daughter who can run rings round people, and can do it in public. After they’re married, Baptista doesn’t give a damn how Kate is getting on with Petruchio. She is completely abandoned.
Like Petruchio, Dalong is used to take away Hao Lina from a society which cannot tolerate someone with a rebellious character and who is likely to do harm to the moral conventions of patriarchy. Like Katherina, Lina is abandoned and marginalised within her society; she is treated as a piece of low-priced property that her father, for one, is eager to sell. Among the dominant males, “it was less the suitors than her father who made Kate wretched…” So it is with Hao Lina’s father, who already thinks of her as a money-losing venture and tries to get rid of her so that he can marry Lisi off for a good price.
Women are seen as men’s property in Kiss Me Nana, and it is especially true in Chinese patriarchal society that a wife is seen as her husband’s property, as is his daughter. Elizabeth Sinn notes:
In China, the central tenet of patriarchy was that the male parent, as the head of a definite household, was the representative of the ‘family’, the principal organised expression of the Chinese State. His supremacy was enhanced by the necessity of continued sacrifices to the spirits of deceased ancestors. The patriarch was thus invested with a power over every member of his family, consisting of one or more wives, children, grandchildren, younger brothers, their wives and children and so forth, as well as of hired and purchased servants, every one of whom had a fixed relation to the ‘family’…In a state thus based on patriarchy, the idea of personal liberty, of absolute rights possessed by every individual as conceived in the modern West, was entirely alien.
Owing to this deep-rooted convention of women as men’s property in Chinese culture, it is perfectly understandable why the modern Taiwanese audience would relate to Baptista’s arranged marriage for his daughter. Even during 1980s Taiwan it was still quite normal and common for parents to decide who their children would marry, and give permission for it. Today, the decision to marry is no longer up to parents, although parents’ decisions and demands still often dominate their children’s lives, and marriages. Statistics show for those born between 1960 and 1965, 57% would make their own marriage choice but would also consider their parents’ opinion. Only 32% would decide whom to marry by themselves without first consulting their parents. Thus, parental influence is still very strong in this culture, and that is why at the end of the play Lisi and Lu Senxiu [路森修] both kneel in front of Lisi’s father to ask his forgiveness for their elopement. Even in the modern age, marriage without parental permission would show extreme disrespect and disrupt order within a patriarchal society.
Because daughters have been widely regarded as property, Taiwanese audiences can easily understand why Baptista sees his daughters’ marriages as a form of conducting a sort of business – for making profit and producing offspring. In the same way, Uncle Hao ignores Lina’s and Lisi’s protestations about marriage, his only intention being to get rid of Lina and then marry off the younger daughter for a good price. To Uncle Hao, Lina has lost her value in the marriage market:
Kouzi: This marriage is indeed fashionable. Has there been such a swift marriage like this one before?
Uncle Hao: To be honest, I am just a businessman right now. All I want is to get rid of the goods, without caring too much about the price. I don’t even care if it is a money-losing venture. As long as Lina can get married, it is a good thing. Although this is hard to imagine…
Uncle Hao: No matter who marries whom, as long as they get married, people can propagate, then civilisation will not perish…
Uncle Hao does not care why Lina finally consents to get married; all he cares about is the outcome. He regards Lina’s marriage as a financial transaction:
Uncle Hao: Nana does not have a good price in the market, but Lisi is totally different. I need to make a judgment according to the actual price of your offer. Anyone who is able to offer her the most abundant dowry can marry her at last.
This explains how he makes a fortune by marrying his second daughter, Lisi, to Lu Senxiu. And, as Elizabeth Sinn points out:
Another feature of Chinese society, which had historically evolved from patriarchy, was that almost every social arrangement – betrothal, marriage, concubinage, adoption, servitude – was professedly based on a money bargain.
Marriage is just one of the games designed for the benefit of male leaders within a patriarchy; for them, women are always their belongings, there to treat as pawns.
It is this kind of social pressure that makes Lina refuse to marry in the first place; she will not be treated as property, and besides, she is financially independent and does not need marriage to prove her self-worth. This latter reason is one of the primary reasons that have been suggested for Lina’s resistance to marriage. In fact, today there are increasing numbers of Taiwanese women who are financially independent and who choose not to marry. Nevertheless, under Chinese patriarchal society, Lina bends to tradition, for the reason given by Rubie S. Watson:
In local society the presence of an adult daughter was inappropriate, inauspicious, even dangerous. The death of an unmarried daughter who was still living in her natal household caused great fear; such a death, it was believed, produced an extremely unsettled and dangerous ghost. Because the soul tablet of an unmarried daughter could not be placed on her father’s domestic altar, unmarried women had to find their final resting place in the delta’s Buddhist nunneries, vegetarian halls, or in the houses of spirit mediums or sworn sisters.
Thus, the only way to secure a woman’s final resting place was through marriage. In addition, only men are valuable in the family for carrying on the family name and honouring the ancestors’ altar with the names of his offspring. For this reason, even though Nana contributes income to her family, her value to the family is still negligible.
From the Chinese patriarchal perspective, raising a daughter is of far less value than raising a son. Although marrying a daughter brings the family a dowry, in Chinese society, raising a daughter is seen as only raising a daughter-in-law for the future family-in-law; hence it is regarded as a money-losing business. As an unmarried daughter in a Chinese family, Nina ultimately has little choice but to surrender to the path of marriage.
Lina still fundamentally confines herself within the obligations of Chinese patriarchal society; though she initially refuses Dalong’s proposal, she still looks forward to the thought of her marriage like other women might. Like Katherina, who shows great interest in her forthcoming marriage, Hao Lina’s excitement about matrimony is evident, as her soliloquy song suggests:
I am going to marry; I am going to be his bride. You don’t have to be surprised that I have my own new life. I am not a stupid woman, and I can tell that most men are not appropriate mates. Since I am smart and bold enough…Would it not be a pity if I give up this great opportunity.
I am pretty surprised that he is willing to be a fool from such a long way. He is not an ordinary man, as he can see that I surpass other women’s souls. We both are well-matched so that we can spend our lives together…Let me decide the future.
Zhang suggests that Lina is in a hurry to marry to Dalong due to the social pressure of that society, and her age. Under the conditions of gender inequality in Taiwan at the time, Lina would stand little chance of making it alone in that society. The Gender Equality in Employment Act was passed later, in 2001, but before then women over 30 had no rights, particularly as workers. The first time women’s employment equality rights became an issue in Taiwan was in June 1987, when 50 female employees of the National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei and the Kaohsiung Cultural Centre were forced to leave because they were either over 30, married or pregnant. Such treatment was very common in Taiwan at that time; once they were over 30, married or pregnant women automatically had to quit their jobs.
Nevertheless, as the play’s opening song suggests, Lina understands that marriage will provide the only means of escape for her: “Don’t worry about women like Hao Lina who don’t surrender easily. / Because they will surrender eventually when they get older.” The limitations of women’s ‘biological clock’ are perhaps another reason pushing Lina into marriage – after all, a woman’s age is a concern for male suitors, affecting whether they can bring offspring to honour the family.
All of these factors may well explain Lina’s hurry to marry Dalong, and she takes the initiative in their wedding ceremony – symbolically holding his hand and walking toward the priest. Lina’s action of taking his hand (an especially powerful and meaningful gesture to the Taiwanese audience) can also be understood as her initiative, as a feminist to take charge of her own marriage. By holding his hand, Lina is announcing to everyone that it is she, Hao Lina, who has decided to marry, instead of being ordered to do so by society. Later, Lina again shows her dominant position over Dalong, in a twist on the scene where Shakespeare’s Petruchio teachs that Katharina ‘call the sun the moon’ (4.3.1-23):
Lina: Dalong, look at that girl. Isn’t she cute? Why don’t you say hello to her?
Dalong: Are you insane? What girl? He is an old man with grey hair.
Lina: Well, you can make a joke, and I am not allowed to have a sense of
humour? What? You are not going to say hello? Well, let’s go home then.
Dalong: Fine. Fine. I will go as you wish.
In The Taming of the Shrew, ‘calling a moon a sun’, and an old man a gentle mistress, is Petruchio’s way of instructing Katherina to be submissive. However, Lina mocks Dalong’s taming plan as a joke, and reverses the dominant/subordinate situation, as a subtle means of control. Later, when Dalong and Lina arrive at his house, he initially mirrors Petruchio’s action towards Katherina by starving Hao Lina. Although he claims financial motivation (to save money), both Dalong and Petruchio’s real purpose is to induce the woman’s submission. Nevertheless, the more Dalong tortures Lina, the more she exacts her revenge, in the form of withholding sex:
Dalong: Don’t eat too much before sleep! Come on, Nana. Let us go to bed
now and get some sleep…
Lina: Wait! Where shall I sleep?
Dalong: Where will you sleep? Of course, you shall sleep next to me.
Lina: Well, my dear Mr. Pan. I don’t think today is a good time for us to be
so intimate. Oh? Didn’t you just say that today is not the last day of our marriage, but
just the first day? So good night.
In the play’s Taiwanese version, Lina’s character is as powerful as Dalong’s. It is not so much the case that Dalong tames Lina, but on the contrary, she occasionally takes control and even becomes the dominant partner, using similar methods to tame him. In other words, the tables are turned, and the ‘tamed’ Taiwanese woman becomes the tamer.
Ultimately, though Kiss Me Nana is an adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, the focus of Kiss Me Nana is not at all about the act of “shrew-taming” itself. As discussed earlier, the title Kiss Me Nana instead refers to Dalong’s quest for Lina’s kiss – her submission – which is not forthcoming in the Taiwanese version. This makes Kiss Me Nana overall seem more like a play about gender wars for the Taiwanese audience, not a Shakespearian tale of male conquest and women’s inevitable silencing and submission.
If the war of words between Lina and Dalong early on in the play is designed to convey the ceaseless battle of the sexes, then the scene in the woods, which director Liang added to his adaptation, signifies a moment when both Lina and Dalong stop quarrelling because they have reached mutual understanding. In this scene, Lina and Dalong get lost and become separated, and their reunion at the end shows their growing dependence upon each other. This additional scene would seem to symbolise the mutual understanding between men and women and also softens tension in the gender wars; as a whole, Lina compromises far less than Katharina. The quest for gender equality which Lina has been pursuing all her life seems to have come true in the Taiwanese version. However, by the end of the play, Lina shows no difference from Dalong in confronting the hierarchy of Chinese patriarchy, and has shown no transformation in her personality throughout the play. This is purely a convenient, tidy ending to appeal to the Taiwanese audience, for there would have been no need for Dalong to have come such a long way to marry and tame her.
Even though laws on gender equality have been passed in Taiwan, can gender equality really exist, or be enforced in a Chinese patriarchal society? Despite all that has been done to improve gender equality in Taiwan over the last 30 years, the division of labour between the sexes and stereotypes of women’s roles have remained almost unchanged. Society now expects women to do all of the housework as well as earn a second household income. Compare this with Dalong’s expectations of Lina:
Dalong [talking to the servants]: Bring me the wine and the meal quickly. Blast. Do I have to teach you everything? Hurry up! [servants running]
Dalong: Stop! [servants all stop]
Dalong: Good Nana. You will take good care of this household, right? Do
you see that it is not so easy to manage such a big house?
In The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio does not mention anything of the sort to Katherina. Instead, he calls his servants names as a means to tame Katherina. He exerts control over his servants, as well as over Katherina. However, Liang has Dalong demonstrate her duty as a wife, by insulting his servants, inciting her to take over control of the household. Dalong does not show any intention to tame Lina by starving her; instead he starves her for ostensibly economic reasons:
Dalong: What is all this about? Although today is the first day of my marriage, it isn’t the last day either. No need to be so extravagant. We will have to spend a lot more money in the future. Take it down! Take it down!
Nana: Did you hear what you just said? Didn’t you tell my father that you are a wealthy man?
Dalong: Good Nana! I respect you as an independent woman. You must have your own interests and income.
This scene indicates that although more and more men in Taiwan are becoming conscious about gender equality and are starting to share the housework with their wives, there is still a long way to go before women stand on level ground with men.
In Elizabethan times, the character of Katherina in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew would be played by a cross-dressing boy. In Liang Chi-min’s Kiss Me Nana, cross-dressing is still included in Liang’s production, but it is not the role of Katherina that is played by a boy, but Kouzi (Tranio) – who is played by a woman. The significance of Liang’s decision – asking a woman to play a man’s role – can be interpreted as woman’s movement being confined within man’s dominant ‘body’. As Kiss Me Nana was directed by a male director, the production was presented from a male perspective, so that the gesture of asking an actress to cross-dress demonstrates the director’s fundamental patriarchal dominance and power. Granted, within the theatrical hierarchy, the role of director can be either female or male. On one hand, in terms of actor-director relationship, the director’s role can be considered part of a gendered male patriarchy, because of, as Knowles argues, “…the hierarchical nature of the theatrical workplace, in which the function of the director has always been in part managerial and patriarchal.” However, in the director-playwright relationship, the director’s role immediate becomes subordinate to the playwright’s: all production is inevitably adaptation and the word ‘adaptation’ suggests its inferiority to the original text. Hence, in terms of gender politics in intercultural theatre, actor, director and playwright are all always placed within that hierarchy in which director Liang’s strategy was to accentuate that cross-dressing relationship.